Pneumothorax: Definition, Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments


What is pneumothorax?

Pneumothorax is the medical name for a deflated lung. It happens when the air begins to enter the space around your lungs. Air can find its entrance into the pleural space when there is open damage in your chest wall or tear or rupture in your lung tissue, interrupting the pressure that keeps your lungs inflated.

Causes of ruptured or damaged chest or lung walls can include lung disease, trauma from a sport or accident, assisted breathing with a ventilator, or even changes in the air pressure that you feel when scuba diving or mount climbing. Sometimes the cause of a pneumothorax is idiopathic.

This difference in the pressure caused by an opening in your chest or lung wall can cause the lung to fall and put stress on the heart. The condition varies in severity. If there is only a small quantity of air trapped in the pleural space, as can be the problem in spontaneous pneumothorax, it can usually heal on its own if there have been no further difficulties. More severe cases that involve larger volumes of air can become deadly if untreated.

Types And Causes Of Pneumothorax

The types of pneumothorax are traumatic pneumothorax and nontraumatic pneumothorax. Either type can point to a tension pneumothorax if the air enclosing the lung increase in pressure. A tension pneumothorax is normal in case of trauma and needs emergency medical treatment.

Traumatic Pneumothorax

Traumatic pneumothorax occurs after any type of trauma or injury has occurred to the chest or lung wall. It can be a lesser or significant injury. The trauma can destroy chest structures and cause air to flow into the pleural space. Examples of damages that can cause a traumatic pneumothorax to involve:

  • Injury to the chest from a motor vehicle accident
  • Broken ribs
  • A strong hit to the chest from contact sports, such as from a football tackle
  • A puncture wound or bullet wound to the chest
  • Medical procedures that can harm the lungs, such as a central line placement ventilator use, lung biopsies, or CPR.

Variations in air pressure from scuba diving or cliff climbing can also cause a traumatic pneumothorax. The increase in altitude can result in air blisters developing on your lungs and then rupturing, heading to the lung collapsing. Prompt treatment of pneumothorax due to significant chest trauma is critical. The signs are often severe, and they could contribute to possibly fatal such as cardiac arrest, respiratory failure, shock, and death.

Nontraumatic pneumothorax

This type of pneumothorax does not happen after an injury. Instead, it happens automatically, which is why it is also referred to as spontaneous pneumothorax.

There are two main types of spontaneous pneumothorax that is primary and secondary. Primary spontaneous pneumothorax happens in people who have no associated lung disease, often changing young males who are tall and thin. Secondary spontaneous pneumothorax leads to occur in older people with known lung problems.

Some condition that raises your risk of SSP involves:

  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, like emphysema, or chronic bronchitis.
  • Acute or chronic infection, such as tuberculosis
  • Lung cancer
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Asthma is a chronic obstructive airway disease that causes inflammation.

Spontaneous hemopneumothorax is an uncommon subtype of spontaneous pneumothorax. It occurs during both blood and sir fill of the pleural cavity without any original trauma or history of lung disease.


Symptoms of pneumothorax may barely be noticeable at first and can be mixed with other disorders. The symptoms of pneumothorax can differ from mild to life-threatening and may involve:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Sharp pain when inhaling
  • Pressure in the chest gets more critical over time
  • Blue discoloration of the skin or lips
  • Increased heart rate
  • Rapid breathing
  • Confusion
  • Loss of consciousness

Some cases of pneumothorax have practically no symptoms. These can only be diagnosed with an X-ray or other kinds of scans. Others necessitate emergency medical attention. Anyone experiencing the symptoms above should communicate with their doctor or seek immediate medical help.

Treatment Options

  1. Needle aspiration– A needle connected to the syringe through a catheter that is inserted at the affected site in the lung to pull out the surplus air trapped in the region and let the lungs to re-expand to their normal size.
  2. Chest tube insertion– A flexible tube is entered into the chest and all the excess air is extracted out until the lungs have fully healed.
  3. Nonsurgical Repair– These include the administering of an irritant to the lungs in order to ensure the leaks in the lung tissue seal themselves and the trapped air is automatically reduced.
  4. Surgery– There is a possibility that pneumothorax conditions might recur. In these cases, surgery is performed by the physicians to fully block the air leaks in the lung.